Many of the MAZON staff recently joined actor Joshua Malina in a week-long SNAP Challenge, attempting to feed ourselves for seven days on a budget of $31.50, the average amount of SNAP benefits (food stamps) one person would receive. Along the way, he inspired many to join him on the journey, including some blogger friends who wrote about their experiences as well.
We entered this challenge with the implicit understanding that it wouldn’t be easy. $31.50 for a week translates into a meager $1.50/meal. We all expected to be hungry. We assumed the quality and variety of our food would diminish. But for most of us, those predictable challenges were really the tip of the iceberg. Turns out the complexity of eating on a food stamp budget reaches far beyond the obvious challenge of putting enough food on the table.
As the week progressed, each of us struggled in our own way. Some of us felt hungry. Some couldn’t stop thinking about food. Others found it difficult to socialize, and others still found it impossible to adhere to the diets they had been instructed to follow. But the one struggle common among every participant was one of being overwhelmed. This experience exacted a substantial emotional toll. Between the added time spent planning the week’s menu and researching where to get the best prices on those items, the counting of every penny while shopping to ensure we didn’t exceed our budget, the prep work to make every meal at home, we were, individually and collectively, exhausted. (Even those who typically prepare most of our meals at home!) Add to that a healthy ration of fear that, despite our best attempt at planning, the food wouldn’t actually last the whole week, and it’s no understatement to say that we were all stressed out.
Along the way, we received some criticism. Some people accused us of mocking those who actually live on SNAP and disparaged our efforts as a “game.” To them we calmly explained that our intention was to engage in an exercise in empathy – to step into someone else’s shoes, even if for just a moment, to better comprehend their experience.
We were fully aware that we were only dropping in for a week – getting a split-second glimpse at the simplest part of the struggle. We went into this with the full realization that one week barely scratches the surface of the struggles that accompany a life lived in poverty. We didn’t have to traverse the web of challenges a “typical” family living in poverty has to manage. We didn’t have to actually swallow our pride and admit that we needed help, or endure the lengthy and tedious application process that accompanies receiving government assistance. Most of us have plentiful access to well-stocked grocery stores, cars to drive us to those stores, and gas to fill the tank. We didn’t have to make the impossible choice between food and rent, heat or medicine, and we knew that once the seven days were over, we would return to our comfortable lives.
Even so, we all came away changed from the extraordinary complex panoply of emotions the experience triggered. We feel a deeper sense of gratitude for our blessings and compassion for those who live this struggle every day. And we are more determined than ever to protect SNAP.
#SNAP4aWeek Around the Web
We had quite a few of our blogging friends writing about #SNAP4aWeek. We enjoyed hearing about their experiences and thank them for their thoughtful participation: